Two Faculty Members Honored with Distinguished Gerontology Awards

January 4, 2010

The Gerontological Society of America presented distinguished awards to two Penn State faculty members at its annual conference, November 18 to 22, 2009, in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Steven Zarit, professor and head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, received the organization’s Distinguished Career Contribution Award. Dr. Gerald McClearn, Evan Pugh Professor of Health and Human Development, received its Robert W. Kleemeier Award.

Distinguished Career Contribution Award

The Distinguished Career Contribution Award is presented annually to an individual whose contributions over the course of his or her career have articulated a novel theoretical or methodological perspective or synthesis that addresses a significant problem in the literature.

“[Dr. Zarit’s] pioneering research on burden in family caregivers of frail older adults has shaped the work of other researchers in the field over the past three decades. He continues to challenge basic and applied researchers to higher levels of methodological sophistication," said Dr. Bob G. Knight, the Merle H. Bensinger Professor of Gerontology and professor of psychology at the University of Southern California.

Zarit, who also received the 2008 Pauline Schmitt Russell Distinguished Research Career Award from Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development, was one of the first researchers to study the burden on family caregivers of adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia. He has developed treatment models and procedures for helping caregivers reduce stress and also evaluated community programs such as adult day care that are designed to assist caregivers. His other research focuses on the “oldest old,” people aged 80 and older, demonstrating that psychological factors are important in determining whether someone at advanced age is able to remain independent. Zarit has maintained this impressive research agenda while serving as head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies since 2003.

“It's a great honor to receive this award,” said Zarit. “I have been fortunate in having early in my career known and worked with some of the founders of the field: Berenice Neugarten, Robert L. Kahn, James Birren, and with some of the great figures of the last forty years, such as K. Warner Schaie and Paul Baltes. I have also been fortunate to have had wonderful and talented students, who are now carrying on the best of the gerontological tradition.”

Robert W. Kleemeier Award

The Robert W. Kleemeier Award is given annually to a member of GSA in recognition for outstanding research in the field of gerontology. The award, created in 1965, is in memory of a former president of the society whose contributions to the quality of life through research in aging were exemplary.
The winner of the Kleemeier Award presents a lecture at the society's annual scientific meeting the following year. The Kleemeier Award Lecture is one of the highlights of the society's annual scientific meeting.

“Dr. Gerald McClearn is a most deserving recipient of the Kleemeier Award for this year. His long and distinguished career as both a laboratory-based and population-based scientist led him later in his career to focus more on the genetics of later life,” said Dr. Daniel G. Blazer, the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center. “On a personal note, I have been most fortunate to know and work with Dr. McClearn for over twenty years. He is an exemplary colleague.”

McClearn, who also received the 1995 Pauline Schmitt Russell Distinguished Research Career Award from Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development, focuses on how genetic and environmental influences can cause people to age differently.

“This award prompts several lines of thought,” said McClearn. “First, gratitude and pleasure, then a sense of humility: in winning awards, one is aware of all of the other people who could be imagined as recipients of the award. Although it is I who is being honored for my accomplishments, all of my work has been part of a team effort.”

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Editors: For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.